Toilet Use is a Descriptive Norm: The Influence of Social Expectations on Toilet Use in Bihar and Tamil Nadu, India
24 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2022
Date Written: October 2021
Open defecation is a global public health issue. We applied Bicchieri’s Social Norms Framework to diagnose this behavior and determine what type of interventions could be effective in the Indian context. We conducted a mixed method study in rural, urbanizing, and slum areas of Bihar and Tamil Nadu. Using data from randomly selected individuals (n=5052) we assessed toilet use, empirical expectations (beliefs about what other people do), normative expectations (beliefs about what other people think one should do), and the dependence of toilet use behavior on those expectations. We found that empirical expectations were a strong driver of toilet use, while normative expectations had negligible predictive value. Only a minority of respondents believed there were any negative sanctions for defecating in the open. Taken together, these findings indicate that toilet use is a descriptive norm. We therefore conclude that nudges in the form of information about similar other’s improved practices might be an effective behavior change strategy to improve toilet use.
Keywords: sanitation, toilet use, behavior change, collective behaviors, norms, India
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